India’s under-16 footballers ready for Asian challenge

September 29th, 2008 - 6:14 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 29 (IANS) Malswemfela, Tirthankar Sankar, Harpreet Bedi are not familiar names in Indian football. But the 16-year-olds will carry the national pride when India take on the continent’s best at the Under-16 Asian Championship, starting Saturday at Tashkent, Uzbeksitan.The team qualified for the finals after a brilliant run in the qualifiers in Saudi Arabia, where they stunned the home team 3-0 and drew 2-2 with Iraq.

And now after months of practice at home and training in the US and Britain, the 23-member team coached by English man Collin Toal is all set to leave Monday for Tashkent.

Having tested the team’s strength against top English clubs Manchester United and Everton, Toal hoped that the boys will do well in the championships, where they are clubbed with South Korea, Syria and Indonesia in Group B. The team is high on confidence after the Britian tour where they drew 2-2 with Manchester United’s youth team and went down fighting 1-2 to Everton.

“We are prepared pretty well for the Asian Championship. Our preparation is not just for the Asian, but it is a part of our long-term plan. Uzbekistan is just a way ahead. This team will form the core of the national team in future of the national team,” Toal told IANS.

Toal felt that the overseas tours have done a world of good to the colts as their fitness level has also improved.

“The trip to US was valuable for the boys. Though the teams we played were not of high standard, but still the victories gave the boys enomous confidence. It was clearly reflected when they played in England,” he added.

“It was ceditabof the boys to have fought so well against Everton. It was a creditable performance by the boys to go down by a narow margin. And the best thing happened to the team was the draw against Manchester United. United have the best youth development programme in the world and to draw 3-3 against them is great.”

Asked about the team’s chances in the Asian Championship, Toal said: “In age group championships it is very difficult to know the quality of the opponents. On paper South Korea looks like the team to beat in our group.”

So what next after the Asian Championship?

“This team still has a long way to go but this certainly not the team for the pre-Olympic qualifiers. But there might be two, three boys who can make it to the Olympics team,” he said.

India’s matches:
Oct 4: India vs. South Korea
Oct 6: India vs. Syria
Oct 8: India vs. Indonesia
Oct 12: Quarterfinals
Oct 15: Semi-finals
Oct 18: Final

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